Martha Wainwright takes the stage with a wry grin. An audience member, perhaps inebriated, shouts from the floor of the Mod Club, asking the singer-songwriter about her rather peculiar frock.
“I’ve taken up a part-time job as a mechanic,” Wainwright gleefully remarks, referring to her grey one-piece. “Since the music industry is in such bad shape, I thought it couldn’t hurt.”
Kidding of course, the venerable artist sprinkles the night with charismatic banter, as only she can, lending her music a subsequent sense of play and wit.
The new album, Goodnight City, comprises half originals with an assortment of covers written, unbeknownst to me, for Ms. Wainwright. Most notable is “So Down,” penned herself, which delivers a rousing hard edge. Not just loud, it bursts out wonderfully reckless, highlighting a personal rock ’n’ roll sound that isn’t always shown.
Elsewhere, the track “Francis,” gifted by her brother, Rufus Wainwright, is embarked upon with the help of singer, Alex Samaras, doubling as member of opening act Bernice. Admitting that’s she’s never been confident about getting it “right,” Wainwright delicately handles the song’s melodic waltz. Singing lines such as, “How many days within an hour?” she caresses the phrasing, selling something that would be overly mawkish in the wrong hands.
Given that it’s only her and the band’s third gig together, musicianship for the evening amounts to a sublime whole. Album producer, Thomas Bartlett (Sufjan Stevens fame), is particularly stirring with his beautiful piano playing, pairing perfectly with Wainwright’s powerful range.
Even as the crowd begins to thin, the set remains generous, rewarding lifelong fans that stay until the last chord is struck. Most of Goodnight City is played, leaving older cuts such as “Bleeding All Over You” and a jaw-dropping “Factory” thrilling in comparison.
Indeed, Wainwright’s Toronto stop comes nothing short of memorable. To be in her presence – song, conviction, humour – is to be put in a trance.
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Review and Photos by Myles Herod | @mylesherod